The Center for Legislative Archives

Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - George H. Mahon - 1965


Interview Notes Index

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Interview with Rep. George H. Mahon (D-TX)
May 1965

In answer to a question about changes he said, "we are carrying on in much the same way." And immediately he started talking about the investigative staff. He likes this particular arrangement. He then went on to talk about the ranking minority member being ex officio on all subcommittees. Former Appropriations Committee Chairman Clarence Cannon (D-MO) stopped it because he found it "awkward." Mahon has resumed the arrangement with Frank Bow (R-OH). "It is very helpful in giving more unity and cohesiveness to the Committee." "We are an aggregation of autonomous subcommittees instead of a cohesive Appropriations Committee." He said he was trying to get everyone involved in the work of the Committee, "trying to make the whole spectrum a part of the horizon of the members."


He said, "I'm trying to carry on in the best tradition of the Committee." He noted, however, that his philosophy was different from Mr. Cannon's. "I'm more amenable and conciliatory."


I asked him about the party leadership and his relations with them. "There is still some degree of a gulf but it isn't a wide gulf--it has narrowed a lot. The leadership has no difficulty talking to George Mahon, and I don't have any difficulty talking to them." He noted that the "channels are open at all times." And that the gulf had narrowed a lot. He votes against the administration on many issues such as Medicare, the Appalachia bill, and federal aid to education. But he noted that on procedural things they talked to each other. He said that he changed the schedule of the agriculture bill to suit the leadership.


With respect to subcommittee chairmen, his point was that they are still the key men, that they do all the work and have the information. They "have a proprietary interest" in the work of their committees.


He talked some about the relations with the younger members. "The younger members are happier than they have been in years. They know that the chairman knows them and wants them to grow in influence and understanding. I think I have a fine relationship with the younger members. Ask Bob Giaimo [D-CT] and Mrs. [Julia Butler] Hansen [D-WA]." When a man's subcommittee is not functioning and there is a hearing--I assign them temporarily to whet their appetite for the work of the Committee." He mentioned that he assigned some young men temporarily to the Defense Subcommittee in order to help them. They just attended the hearings. Also, when the Defense and the Military Construction Subcommittees were holding hearings on the seven hundred million Viet Nam appropriations, Mahon threw the doors open to all members of the Committee, and the lot came in. He did this to give them a sense of participation. Some of the younger members came to that meeting. He said Cannon would never have done this.


Regarding the Foreign Operations Subcommittee: "I have liberalized this Committee to make it more objective." Cannon, he said, was very opposed to foreign aid. He is, too, very skeptical, but he does not think that it should be abandoned. He said about George Andrews (D-AL) that he "never voted for it and said he never would, no matter what the testimony was. He couldn't be objective." "He begged me to let him off and give him another subcommittee assignment." The point was that Andrews wanted off and was not kicked off. But Mahon thought he ought to get off if he was so partisan. A member who serves on the Foreign Aid Subcommittee should have another one more to his liking, said Mahon. That committee was too controversial. John J. Flynt (D-GA) wanted a "better assignment," and he got State and Justice. Mahon looks upon the Foreign Aid assignment as a non-major one.


I asked him about the method by which Cannon kept people off subcommittees where they had an interest. Mahon said that it was "one of the many factors to be taken into consideration. When a man has a vested interest in a subcommittee, he ought not to be put on that subcommittee. If a man is a prisoner of an agency, he can't be objective, and I'd be very much opposed to it. I'm in favor of Mr. Cannon's idea on principle." His point is that it is one of many factors.


He said with respect to the new members coming on the Committee this year, that he was not consulted, that he was not a party to the actual selection of the actual men. He said he had "preliminary discussions," and he urged the leadership to get top men. But he didn't "hand pick them." He said he wanted "top quality men" mostly because the committee was coming "under increasing attack from the legislative committee."


I asked him about the change in the ratio on the Committee. He pointed out that the leadership had to have places for the Democrats, and they came to him and asked him. "I wasn't so keen about it, but the leadership asked me, and I went along with them."